- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Officials have issued an order banning the use, possession or storage of marijuana in the Santa Fe National Forest, though such practices were already illegal.

The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/20H8z0a ) that Forest Supervisor Maria Garcia issued the closure order banning both medical and recreational marijuana from the 1.5 million acres of the northern New Mexico forest. Possession and use of marijuana are already illegal under federal law.

Forest spokeswoman Julie Anne Overton said the order serves both as a reminder that pot is illegal and a way to handle people caught with the drug more gently.

“One of the advantages of having a closure order in place is that this gives them the flexibility to be able to do a misdemeanor citation as opposed to a full-blown arrest,” she said. “So in cases of simple possession . they can just issue a citation.”

People caught in the forest with marijuana face a fine of up to $5,000 and up to six months in prison.

Overton said the order complies with the Controlled Substances Act and other federal regulations that allow for short-term protection of resources, public safety and health.

Though the order also covers growing operations, Overton said only two growing sites have been discovered on forest land since October 2014.

The order is designed to expire in two years, but the forest supervisor can extend it. The Santa Fe National Forest has issued a number of orders in recent years, including banning target shooting in some areas, banning public nudity and closing areas considered habitat for the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, which is endangered.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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